Real Madrid Femenino lost 2-1 to Levante UD in heart-breaking fashion at the death, ensuring the away side a four point lead over Las Blancas in second place. Real Madrid remain in third but will most definitely rue a massive chance to make their case as the best team in Spain bar Barcelona.
Below are my immediate thoughts. Player ratings and post-match pod to follow.
- The opening twenty minutes or so was a fairly testy affair. Both teams sought to establish control over proceedings through high pressing and measured build-up. It was Levante that had the slight upper hand initially, as forwards Nataša Andonova and Esther González did the work of three players by shadowing Maite Oroz and harassing Ivana Andrés and Claudia Florentino. Madrid’s press was similar, with either Teresa Abelleira or Aurélie Kaci stepping up to form a 4-4-2 structure. Levante found some success progressing against this shape, firing direct balls to the flanks, where Lucía García troubled Marta Corredera 1v1.
- However, Real’s numerical advantage in build-up eventually began to take hold and Las Blancas dominated possession for the last ~25 minutes. On the flip side, Madrid looked a little unsure of how to penetrate Levante’s block. There was a lot of U-shape circulation and attritional build-up, where the home side gained territory inch by inch. Unsurprisingly, that approach didn’t create much, but David Aznar’s possession game was only one part of his strategy.
- Unlike Real, Levante played with only a double pivot, allowing Madrid’s forward pressing options to match up naturally against the back six. That put a lot of onus on Levante’s defenders to win their 1v1 duels and make the right decisions and passes so that their teammates ahead of them could receive and win the next 1v1 contest. There was no obvious outlet to relieve pressure, ignoring the few moments when Esther dropped into her own half. Levante fancy themselves as a good build-up side under María Pry thanks to their quick, vertical mechanisms that can carve open the opposition if they’re not careful. Nevertheless, they often take too many risks building through the halfspaces, which has historically led to unnecessary turnovers.
- In the 34th minute, Real Madrid won possession back from their press after Levante delivered an ill-advised ball down their right. Thanks to a quick rotation of play, Kenti Robles and Marta Cardona were able to play a one-two that got the former free down the touchline, allowing the Mexican right back to find Kaci open in the box to make it 1-0.
- Madrid would get another chance at the end of the half thanks to a cut-back from Sofia, but Cardona could only redirect the service wide.
- In this context, the manner in which Levante scored their equalizer was incredibly ironic. The away side lost possession from an ill-advised, overly risky pass into their right halfspace against the press, allowing Corredera to start a potential counter. But the left back gave the ball right back, leading to a transition attack the other way. The disorganization caused Ivana to split wide to cover the ball, allowing Esther to take Claudia 1v1 in the box and volley home a goal.
- The strike seemed to unsettle Madrid. All of a sudden, the calm side-to-side possession circuit vanished in favor of forced combinations down the wings and vertical passes into congested areas. The increased tempo evened the possession stakes a little and the threat of both sides’ attacking quality getting loose on the break became enhanced. María Pry brought on Alba Redondo for Lucía in the 68th minute, possibly in the hope of capitalizing on this new game flow.
- Madrid seemed to calm down a bit as the game approached the last 15 minutes. In the 74th, Maite crossed the ball from the right, getting Jessica Martínez her first real chance of the game. The leap was spot on but the header could only kiss the ball off of the post. Madrid got another shot off in the same sequence, but Teresa’s effort was saved.
- Immediately afterwards, Aznar brought off Maite Oroz for Kosovare Asllani and Teresa for Thaisa, moving the formation to a 4-4-2/4-2-3-1. The look was defensive thanks to the physical double pivot of Kaci and Thaisa, but Madrid continued to push forward in search of the winner, hemming Levante in and limiting them to counter-attacks.
- At the very death, Levante got their moment; Alba Redondo was slipped in down the left and finished from a tight angle, thus, securing the 2-1 victory and creating some distance between them in second place and Real Madrid in third.